Last Class in the Historic Blacksmith Shop

Last Class in the Historic Blacksmith Shop

The second weekend of  July saw the last forging class in the historic Francis Whitaker Blacksmith Shop. Jerry Darnell was here to teach his “Colonial Lighting” class. Interestingly, Jerry was here for the first class that Francis ever taught here at the Folk School in the mid-seventies, and said that he drove something like six hundred miles to be here and see this man that everyone was talking about. That class was in the older shop across the street – the Oscar Cantrell shop.

This year, the project was to forge and make a double candle, staircase chandelier. I decided to take the class partly because it was the last one in the old buiding, but also it had been a while since I had been in one of Jerry’s classes. I always learn a lot, and I get to brush up on some techniques that I would like to use more often.

The classes routinely involve most all the methods of moving metal, and some forge welding too. In the week long class that Jerry taught the week before, there was a different project each day for the students, so they each got to take home several nice lighting fixtures.

As a retired higher math teacher, Jerry loves the chalk board, and provides impecable notes for the students. It reminded me of college, and I copied the notes verbatim with paper and pencil. They did come in handy.

Jerry Darnell at the chalkboard

I was really happy with my finished chandelier. Not as large as it might sound, it is rather a nice size more fitting to a smaller colonial starcase.

My Finished Chandelier

Jerry insists on all traditional methods, and studies antiques from collections for examples for his reproductions. He is continually researching, so there is usually different pieces for the students to make each succesive year. These are great classes to learn and master these age old techniques that are still the basis for modern blacksmithing. Here is a photo of a part of the process of forge welding the chain links that were used to suspend a light fixture.

Forge Welding a Chain Link.

It was a good weekend in the old shop. Classes have been taught there for thirty one years, ever since Francis taught the first class there in November of 1979. I took my first blacksmithing class here about ten years ago, and have seen many changes in just that time. I hope that the new Clay Spencer Shop eventually smells the same as this one. I always like that smell every time I walk in. It smells of coal smoke, bees wax, and something that I have never been able to quite place, but like it just the same. It smells honest and nostalgic I think.

Next week we move out of the old shop, and I look forward to refitting it for
 its new life of support for the new one. It will house the welding, grinding, drilling, and cutting tasks, as well as be the future home of the steel storage and cutting area. It will have newer, more inert, and safer metal cutting equipment, as well as considerations for improved air quality, and safety.

The building needs a lot of work, and we are actively trying to raise capital to do just that.

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